Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Backstrom A Calder Finalist

Surprising absolutely no one who saw him play from Thanksgiving on, Caps rookie pivot Nicklas Backstrom was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy (for NHL rookie of the year) earlier today.

Some numbers, per the Caps:
  • Backstrom, who was one of four Caps to play every game, turned in the second most prolific season ever for a Capitals rookie, as he helped lead Washington to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. He finished second in rookie scoring with 69 points (Kane led with 72) and lead all rookies and set a new Capitals' rookie record with 55 assists.
  • He had 60 points (13g-47a) in his last 61 games, was a +18 in that time and had three four-point games. In the last 18 games of the regular season, and with the playoffs on the line, he had 18 points (5g-13a) and had a +16 rating. Backstrom tied for third among rookies with a +13 rating and had the highest rating among the top 15 rookie scorers.
  • His four game-winning goals ranked second among rookies and his +19 rating outside of the Southeast Division paced all rookies against non-divisional opponents. Backstrom finished the season as the only rookie with at least 45 points to have a plus-rating in both home and road games. He also became the first rookie in NHL history to post back-to-back four-assist games (1/19 vs. Florida and 1/21 at Pittsburgh.)
  • The 20-year-old turned in successful numbers of the power play as well. He tied for first among rookies with 22 power-play assists and ranked third in rookie power-play points with 25.
And while playoff performance isn't considered in Calder voting (sidenote: if Alex Ovechkin wasn't Hart-worthy if the Caps didn't make the playoffs, why are Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews Calder-worthy?), Backstrom - who struggled mightily early in the Flyers series - came to life in the first round once he and Sergei Fedorov swapped spots on the top two lines (his 16 shots in games four through seven were the most he had over a four-game stretch all year), and ended up tied for the team lead in goals with four.

So here are some questions I'll throw out to the group - Does Nicky have a chance of winning the Calder? Looking forward to next year, would you rather see him back with Alex Ovechkin or centering Alex Semin on the second line? What part of his game do you think needs the most improvement?

23 comments:

dmg said...

(sidenote: if Alex Ovechkin wasn't Hart-worthy if the Caps didn't make the playoffs, why are Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews Calder-worthy?)

There's a fallacy that exists in the belief that a player is not MVP worthy if his team doesn't make the playoffs, the logic being (I guess) "How can he be the best player when his team didn't even make the playoffs?" I don't think this attitude exists for rookies because so often great rookies are top 5 picks a year or two out from the draft, so it's just assumed their team will be bad.

~Mark said...

I'd rate (as in likelihood of winning) the candidates 1,2,3 in this order: Toews, Backstrom, Kane. Nicky could surprise the world and pull it out, but I'm not betting on it.

I'd start Backstrom with Ovy again, but be open to switching if needed. Backstrom is the #1 center of the future, and the future is so much sooner these days. He's shown he can play in this league, with Ovy, so why make that change? If Semin brings even close to his playoff game into next year (and stays healthy), We could have two pretty frikin good lines!

Rob said...

Tough question about next year... I was thinkin about it earlier. I think Nicklas belongs for Ovie long term. Maybe center #2 is a FA target (especially a more physical guy)!

~Mark said...

@dmg - that is one of Barry Smellrose's positions. It seems logical for both, or neither, if you ask me.

Scott said...

a) Chance? Yeah. I don't thank anyone is going to run away with the voting, but I don't think he's gonna win

b)Ovie. They were golden together for most of the season.

c) Needs to bulk up and play a little more physically, although for such a small guy he's not knocked off the puck easily. Also could work on faceoffs.


Congrats Nicklas! How cool is it that we've had 2 calder finalists in the past two years. Here's to Alzner making it 3!

please said...

OVECHKIN-BACKSTROM-KOZLOV
SEMIN-NYLANDER-CLARK
COOKE-FEDOROV-LAICH
BRASHEAR-STECKEL/GORDON- BRADLEY/FEHR/FLASH
BOUCHARD/F/A

MORISSONN-GREE
ALZNER-POTI
F/A-JURCINA/EMINGER/ERSKINE/SCHULTZ
LEPISTO

HUET
JOHNSON
NEUVIRTH/VARLAMOV
MACHESNEY

Anonymous said...

JP, I think you forgot one other reason why he should be the Calder winner: he's not from North America. Not only did he have to leave his homeland and adjust to living in North America but, more importantly, he had to adjust to playing on a smaller rink and to a completely different style of play. Kane and Toews had no such adjustment. Yet despite that, he still managed to finish within a point or two of the rookie scoring leader. Also, he was the only rookie who had to endure a coaching change in mid-season. As to the question can he win the Calder, the answer is definitely yes. His big advantage is playing in the East while his two main competitors are not only from the Western conference but from the same team. Those two will steal some votes from each other, while Backstrom should get the lion's share of Eastern writer's votes. And Rob, we don't need to go out and get a #2 center. He's already here in Michael Nylander.

b.orr4 said...

The anonymous post was me. Don't know why that happened.

JP said...

I was gonna say, that was phenomenally well-reasoned for an anonymouse.

jh said...

The adjustment to the NA game was indeed impressive. Backstrom came in as a 19 year old with a great mind for the game and skill to match. But can you downplay where Kane was playing last year (a rookie in the OHL) to where he ended up this year (leading an NHL team, only 3 points out of the playoffs, in scoring. Also the first Blackhawk rookie to lead his team in scoring since the 30's? Broke Denis Savard and Steve Larmer's record for most assists by a rookie. Tied for the rookie lead in PP goals and was 7 for 9 in the shootout.

As a Hawks fan who lives in DC, the thing I like about this group, and what makes it tough to judge is that each kid has unique qualities that deserves consideration. I wouldn't complain if Backstrom won. But there was an article written about a month ago in the Daily Herald by Hawks' beat writer, Tim Sassone, where he polled 33 hockey writers (about 1/3 of the overall total) who they were voting for. Kane received 21 1st place votes, almost half of them from writers who cover the Eastern conference. It sure looks like it's his to lose. But if he does, it'll go to a deserving candidate.

Rob said...

B.orr ... Yea, I forgot about Nylander AND chris clark... maybe I should think before i type :) (though I wish nylander would play more D)

I like the lines that please wrote up. Except maybe Laich should be on 1 or 2?

JP said...

I think we can all agree that if Toews was healthy all year (and produced at the same rate), he'd probably be a lock, no?

The unfortunate thing about Nick's candidacy is that some of his most impressive qualities as a hockey player don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet (though I'm sure Kane and Toews supporters would say similar things about their guys).

@ Rob: I think a lot of Nyls' defensive problems this year were the direct result of his injury. Look at his career numbers - his +/- has never been a problem.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that Nicky will pull it in simply because of the other hardware the Caps are going to bringing home. I have a feeling that voters would like to see an award go outside the org but I definitely feel he deserves it for his play down a stressful stretch.

The voters may just look for the points leader and award the Calder to Kane.

Regarding next season, keep him on the first. He realized in the playoffs that if he shoots, he can indeed score, so next year he may not continually let Ovie take the shots.

Good luck, Nicky, I hope you get it!

Rage said...

I'm pumped about Nylander next year. And I would put Semin with whichever Swedish Senter maximized his performance (probably Bex) and then Ovechkin with the other.

I really hope Clark comes back next year. That'd be two great lines.

And I think the thing about MVP is the method of defining Value. Many people look at reg season success as a binary variable (playoffs or no). And if you don't make the playoffs, then it didn't matter whether or not you were the best player.

I don't agree with this logic, just rationalizing. We've also discussed how if value is measured traditionally, then goalies would always win the award.

To me, value = (points earned with player x) - (points earned with a league average player in player x's spot). Whoever maximizes that is the MVP. Without AO, and with the struggles this team had scoring goals at times, I'm not sure we come within 8 points of the playoffs without him. Thus, to me, he deserves the MVP.

keef said...

I'm the anon above and thought of one last thing about Nicky's season while driving home.

Lack of PIM. I'm far too lazy to go to NHL.com and look it up but for a rookie, he didn't seem to be in the bin very often. I can only remember muttering his name once in response to a bad penalty at an inopportune time.

Playing on a line with Ovie and not getting frustrated (like our rabbit-like friend, Semin) is mighty impressive to me.

grapejoos said...

I think Backstrom may have opened some eyes in the playoffs, assuming voting hasn't happened yet. I know this is a regular season award, but I also know that writers are lazy and the playoff performance might make them realize that Backstrom isn't just feeding Ovechkin.

That said, I think Kane has to win it. I haven't seen the Hawks play but this reminds me of the Crosby-Ovie race. Kane has more points and less help. Backstrom may be a better player (they're all going to be great, if you ask me), but you gotta give it to Kane.

And by the way, I think the playoff prerequisite is ridiculous for any award. The MVP in any sport is the one who is the most valuable - the one who would be missed the most if he were not there. I endorse rage's formula, to the extent that a formulation is possible (it's hard to account for goalies in MVP voting).

RandyD said...

Calder candidates are always expected to be with bad teams, which is why Backstrom has no chance at the Calder. Not to mention the fact that a North American hasn't won the award for the past few years. Nicky did an amazing job adjusting to NHL-sized rinks and the North American-style of play that the other 2 didn't have to. But that won't matter. It'll go to the guy with the points (since that fact helped Ovie so much).

Whatever happens, big Congratulation to Backstrom for the nomination and for such a great season.

b80vin said...

Nick has a much better chance of winning than only two other rookies. But he won't. He centered for Ovechkin and that, as well as the points, will seal the deal. Though I like the plus/minus numbers.

I'm going against trend here. I'd like to see Backstrom and Semin together because the Russian Bunny needs the guy, while Ovechkin can score with anyone, and Nylander is better than just anyone. Nicky would help the team most by helping Semin.

As for what he needs to do most for next year, it's all about toughness and size. Maybe 10 lbs. And also, some confidence in his shot.

To add to his list of non-applicable playoff accomplishments, didn't he also become the first rookie in NHL history to have a goal in four consecutive playoff games? I believe this was mentioned to me by some woman (my wife).

Hooks Orpik said...

"(sidenote: if Alex Ovechkin wasn't Hart-worthy if the Caps didn't make the playoffs, why are Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews Calder-worthy?)"

In a word: semantics.

Because the Hart Trophy goes to the player adjudged most valuable. I still don't see the value in a player that can't lead his team to a post-season that 53% of the league makes, unless it's a Herculean effort (like Ovechkin's performance this year....you know, if the Caps hadn't made the playoffs)

The Calder Trophy goes to the most proficient rookie. One can be the best rookie and have to lead his team anywhere by how it's written.

norske said...

The only logical fallacy here is that people can't seem to tell the difference between an MVP award, like the Hart, and a best player award, like the Calder. They are fundmentally different concepts, and the same standards do not apply, and have never applied. I'm particularly disappointed to see that Japers, of all people, is perpetuating that stupid (IMO)question.

JP said...

The comment was pretty tongue-in-cheek and aimed at those who would deny the best player in hockey the MVP award if his goalie had let in a couple more goals on the last night of the season, but to move to the literal, "the Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team."

Where does it say that value can only be attained by making the playoffs? Same place it does here: "The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League."

I realize that the Hart voters, over time, have come to more or less make the playoffs a prerequisite. But "value" is as vague a term as "proficient."

Then again, perhaps I'm stupid.

norske said...

Well, that isn't actually the argumemtI was making, since I think it is indisputable that making the playoffs does have a big effect on the Hart voting, whether or not it should (although frankly, using that standard doesn't offend me bit). But it never has in the Calder voting (or else I guess Phaneuf should have won in 2006). The difference is simply the difference between the most "valuble" player and the "best" (or "most proficient") player.

You might have been tongue in cheek (glad to hear it!) but the vast majority of people making that argument seem to think they have hit upon a huge sign of hypocrisy aimed, of course, squarely at Ovechkin. I just don't see any hypocrisy there.

JP said...

Well, those people are unquestionably stupid. In essence, the League would be generally making it harder for their best rookies - those who the worst teams had the opportunity to draft - to win the award for best rookie. That's just moronic.